Focus on Planning, Not Plans

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and planned the successful invasions of North Africa, France and Germany during World War II, didn’t put much stock in plans.

“Plans are nothing,” Ike once said. Planning, however, was an entirely different matter for the man who would become our nation’s 34th president. He believed “planning is everything.” In other words, the value really derives from the disciplined process that produces the plan. Furthermore, a plan that has not been preceded by sufficient planning may not get you where you want to go.

Are you planning for the future of your facility or club in ways that produce the right plans to guide your actions? Before you try to jump to the final product (the plan), consider a few basic but critical planning steps.

Agronomic Planning. Many states in the U.S. and most Canadian provinces have begun the progressive reduction of pesticides on golf courses and sports fields. Is your course anticipating the almost certain changes that are coming? Your planning process also should address water and water-taking, fertility, pesticides and chemical use and storage, tree replacement and removal, mechanical care and upkeep of maintenance equipment, and employee training and development.

Capital Improvement and Investment Planning. Golf courses and private clubs have insatiable appetites for capital. As a result, clubs must maintain a robust and thorough roster of capital assets, ranging from community infrastructure and buildings to rolling stock and maintenance equipment to furniture, fixtures and equipment.

Typically, capital and investment plans are the work of the controller and the finance committee. But expansive-thinking clubs also include in the process management, staff and the people who actually use and operate the capital assets. The more inputs provided to the capital asset roster, the better the eventual capital plan. The controller should issue clear and unequivocal guidance concerning the active definition of capital assets to ensure board-based understanding and compliance.

When planning for future capital needs, take into account: capital items owned by the club; standard useful life estimates (available through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants); life-cycle projections for golf course assets, including greens, tees, sand bunkers, irrigation systems and drainage (available through the American Society of Certified Golf Architects); and actual standard unit counts of assets to ensure alignment with utilization needs and patterns.

Crisis Planning. What happens in the event of a disastrous or tragic event at your club? What specific actions should employees take, and in which priority order? Which staff members are authorized to contact and deal with police, emergency responders and fire departments? Who contacts the insurer? Who drafts responses to media questions and acts as a spokesperson for the club? Who manages the subsequent media cycles? All of these questions should be anticipated and answered during a detailed planning process and obviously before any crisis.

Resources in answering these questions include your insurance carrier and agent, local public services of fire, health and public safety, and experts available through major professional associations such as CMAA, GCSAA and PGA.

Marketing Planning. One of the regrettable truths revealed by the Great Recession is that most golf courses and private clubs do not understand their markets well enough to inform their most critical decision making. Few conduct a business-like market analysis of existing customers and prospective market segments outside of the front gate.

Lacking a thorough and current understanding of their markets, most clubs execute misdirected, ineffective and potentially costly marketing efforts. Top-performing clubs have studied and measured their market areas. Among other benefits, this research helps them understand feeder markets (which may be out of state and beyond) that can sustain growth and reliable financial performance.

Armed with the information uncovered during the planning process, you now have the ingredients of a comprehensive business plan which supports your overall strategic plan. While he may not salute your plan, Ike would surely be impressed with the hard work and critical thinking that produced it.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry.